If karma counts for anything, Katie Hoff deserves to win a gold medal at these Olympics.
Because if that happens, she'll never again have to explain why she threw up after the 400-meter individual medley at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
It's a story that gets told and retold virtually every time the Towson native is written about, but most of the media never seem to tire of hearing it. Hoff, who used to loathe discussing the incident, has been a pretty good sport about recounting her worst moment as a swimmer, including yesterday during the first news conference for the U.S. swim team.
Yes, at age 15, she did throw up after her first race at the 2004 Olympics, and, yes, it was from nerves. It was all part of a lengthy learning process that has brought her to Beijing, where she'll swim five individual events and at least one relay.
She has told the story countless times in the past four years, but it was worth reliving one last time on the eve of her second Olympics.
"Everything about this time feels different," Hoff said. "Walking into this pool this time, I could almost pinpoint what my problem was last time. I don't feel scared anymore, and I don't have the whole world swirling around me. I feel more in control and ready to go."
Hoff still finds herself correcting people's misconceptions about what happened in 2004.
"People thought I threw up beforehand because of nerves," Hoff said. "But I was so nervous, I was hyperventilating before the race, and my body went toxic halfway through the race and I was kind of sick afterward."
As it turns out, the best thing to happen to Hoff was becoming good in other events. The better she became in other races, the less pressure she put on herself in the individual medleys. So when Australia's Stephanie Rice broke Hoff's world record in the 400 IM, Hoff wasn't intimidated as she might have been in the past. Instead, she embraced the challenge and reclaimed the world record at the U.S. trials in Omaha, Neb.
"I was definitely shocked that one Saturday morning when I found out about my record," Hoff said. "I think it kind of helped me a little bit, though. Going into trials, I don't think I was focused on breaking the record. I was just focused on having a good swim, making the team, and that took a lot of pressure off me."
A month ago, Jack Bauerle, the U.S. women's head coach, said he definitely wanted to consider adding Hoff to the 400 relay team, even though she wasn't among the top qualifiers. Hoff said there had been some discussion of her swimming that event during training camp, but ultimately she didn't believe it would happen.
"If they want me, great, but I think we have quite a big group of girls who are more than capable of going fast for the U.S.," Hoff said. "I feel like I have enough events. There are some girls that should get a chance to step up. They swam faster than me. I think that's how it should stand."
The U.S. swim team members, men and women, said they feel like they've been able to put the sport into perspective recently after American swimmer Eric Shanteau revealed he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Shanteau, who will undergo treatment after the Olympics, said he has received considerable support from his teammates since he went public with his illness.
"When people ask me how I focus, I say it's not hard when you have one of the best Olympic teams in your corner," Shanteau said. "From the night I told them, to the rest of my life, I know they'll be in my corner supporting me through this. ... This has been a roller-coaster ride. This isn't just the flu - this is cancer. It's on my mind constantly. I can't help it. That's just how it's going to be."
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